When I was in early elementary school, we would do mild exercises in our classrooms during the school day. In retrospect, I suspect that the teachers were trying to work out our wiggliness, but I thought we were having fun. One exercise I remember in particular was a routine that we did to a recording of a little song. It went like this: “Bend and stretch, reach for the stars! There goes Jupiter, there goes Mars!” I’ve forgotten the rest of the ditty, but lately I’ve been thinking of the part I recall. That’s probably because I have been doing a lot of bending lately. Part of my bending is actual exercising, although this week I haven’t done so well on getting to that. But the bending I really have in mind here is being flexible in attitude and action.
There’s a lot of call for flexibility in life generally, and that requirement seems greater than ever these days. Living abroad is one long exercise in learning, changing, and figuring out a way to do something. Just saying something, for example, can be an exercise in improvisation. In a store recently, I needed two of something, but only one was on the shelf. In English, “Do you have any more just like this?” would just flow out of my mouth in this situation. But here, I manage best with simple language. “Tiene más?” and holding up my item must suffice. It’s not lyrical, but it gets the job done.
Likewise, dealing with remote transactions requires some work-arounds. Voting remotely in Texas, for example, is all done by mail. Get this – you have to request for a ballot, which can be done online, but then you must get a ballot mailed to you, and mail back the ballot. Our last ballot showed up a week after the election. In a world of S-L-O-W mail, this is ridiculous. This circumstance has moved us to return to Texas for early voting in order to make our ballots count. To be fair, lots of businesses and other institutions have gotten the memo on the need for remote access. Here’s a shout-out to the Austin Public Library, which allows me to renew my card over the internet. I filled out the renewal form and then had a question, so I emailed from the “Help” button. A friendly librarian responded promptly. What a deal!
And then there is flexibility required in traveling. We had planned a stay in a nearby city, Altea, with our good friends Di and Jean-Marc Longo. Di had kindly arranged for an apartment that advertised itself as air conditioned. Sadly, when we arrived at the apartment, we encountered one puny unit emitting a weak stream of semi-cool air in the corner of one room. So much for that apartment. Over a nice dinner in Altea, we agreed to return to Torrevieja and settle for day trips. This enabled us to sleep in the climate-controlled bedrooms of our own apartments. So that’s how we ended up doing day trips in a gorgeous national park that reminded Mark and me of Big Bend (there’s that word again), at the pictured winery, and at an artists’ colony in a series of caves. It wasn’t exactly the getaway we planned, but it’s the one we got and enjoyed.
Being able to bend is also necessary in dealing with COVID. We’ve canceled more trips than I’d care to count this year. We still have a couple on the books – a triumph of hope over experience, I guess. I am unable to count the number of flights we’ve had change, hotel reservations we’ve reworked, and rental cars we’ve reserved, unreserved, and, in some cases, reserved again. These days we are opting for more expensive refundable reservations in our travel. And there is zero percentage in being upset at it all, because this is how the world works for the foreseeable future. But we persevere. And we bend.
I’m hoping that all of this bending changes me permanently into a more flexible person. I’d like to be less attached to my plans and expectations and more ready to go with the flow. That’s a piece of Buddhism this Methodist would happily incorporate into her life. I’d be happier, the people around me would be happier, and I might even learn how very unimportant most of what I care about is. That’s growth. Bend and stretch, people. Reach for the stars.